Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Up and running

Not me, darlings, my other blog.  I just couldn't face dealing with it yesterday, though I had plenty of time.  I had a sense of despair at the thought of it.  I'd perked up by the evening however, so looked up the details and cracked on with it this morning.  It took quite some time with a helpful chap in IT support on the host website and now I've got a much better deal for less money.  He tried to point me in the right direction to set that up myself, but I knew that wasn't going to happen and pleaded uselessness.  Just as well I did because, it turned out, there was a fault after all and he had to disable *something or other* to get the blog back.

I appreciate this stalwart old blog, though, and was glad to use it.  So I'll double-post sometimes, for the benefit of those who prefer to come here.  The 'official' site is, again, razorbladeoflife.co.uk, all the same.

Thanks to you kind people for leaving comments while I've been here.

Monday, 11 February 2019

As the Bard said, what's .......

I can't now remember why, at dinner, Tim told me the Italian for onion.  I was intrigued though, because it's nothing like the French, which the English is derived from.  I looked it up in several different languages and I'm still puzzled.  It seems that both the Spanish/Italian/Portugese/Romanian come from the Latin, but so does the French, from a completely different word.

Time was, I'd have done all the research and discovered what I wanted to know.  Now, I'm not sure I can be bothered.  I will remain intrigued, without quite enough zest to mind.

We were talking about names, too.  I know several people who've chosen to change their name, for one reason or another.  Brenda was 70 years old when she finally decided to change to Zella and, such was the strength of her personality, no one ever called her Brenda again.  Sophie was called so by her husband-to-be, who mistook what her name actually was (not his fault) and said that Sophie suited her far more than Janet, and so it does.  Dorothy changed to Jane because Dot rhymed with Stott and she'd been teased for too many years - her mother (and Sophie's) never accepted it though, so which you called her depended on which side of the family you knew better.

Most people seem not greatly to like their given name.  I liked mine, growing up, because of the Z, mostly.  I enjoyed the slash - slash - slash of the Z, like Zorro (I was a child addicted to television, so have always been tolerant of computer games and so on), I liked the ë diaeresis, that the name was a Greek word, that it was distinctive and I didn't mind too much that no one knew how to pronounce or spell it, if they could remember it at all.  I quite happily answered to Snowy, Suzie, Zo or anything else, and still do.  Indeed, my friend Sophie and I were quite used, as adults, to answering to each others' name.

I really do call my sister Wink, or Winkie.  But her name is Melanie, though she's usually known as Mel nowadays.  Why she's Wink is quite another story, however.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Wince

Wince, our gardener, is such a nice man.  He's worked here for nearly six years, having been at the same job from the age of 15 until 60, when he was made redundant because the business closed.  He didn't want to look for another job, so decided to do odd jobs - just what we needed.

He rescued me, many years ago, when I fell into the icy river and, though I could stand, couldn't get out, and we'd always passed the time of day (what an odd expression, but you know what I mean).  He always lived at home with his parents, then his mum, never married, though he has got a girlfriend   and now he lives alone since his mother died a few months ago.  He's very interested in nature, conservation, photography, engineering and music, but it's not easy to know him well, he's quite self-contained.

He was such a help to me after Russell died.  I'd been really struggling to keep the garden going - mostly, the grass cut - for several years but, even though I thought I'd sell and move on, I didn't want the place I'd lived happily for nearly thirty years to be neglected.  So I bought some new equipment and Wince was very pleased with it.  He isn't as much of a gardener as I (theoretically) am, to tell the truth, and has sometimes dug up choice plants when he is carried away with the weeding, but that's accidental.

When he arrives on a Thursday morning, he wants to know if I have a Plan, and professes to be disappointed if I haven't.  I can usually tell what he has in mind, though, because he brings a wheelbarrow with any tools that I don't have and he does - today, it was a hedge trimmer because Rose had some tidying up in mind and Wince correctly surmised that I didn't have many jobs for him.  Often, I've mentioned two or three things that need doing, sometime in the next few weeks at his convenience, and he's done them all by the end of the day.  He just never stops.  Today, having done the pruning and tidying that Rose needed, it suddenly poured with rain - so he took himself off to the barn and split logs until the rain stopped.  Then he said he'd finished an hour early, so wouldn't take a full day's money.  As I said, such a nice man.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Food, glorious...

LX and Vagabonde have triggered more thoughts of proper English food - how could I not have mentioned scones?  British scones, not American ones, which are more like our drop scones, I think.  Simply butter rubbed into flour with a little sugar and mixed into a dough with milk.  You can add an egg and you can add some raisins or sultanas, but you don't have to.  Gently roll or pat it out, not too thin, cut into rounds with a cutter or simply divide into pieces with a knife, put on a baking sheet and into a hot oven for ten minutes or so, while you put jam and whipped cream or butter into dishes and make tea.  Simply perfect.

We love our cakes, the traditional English cooks.  They tend to be variations on a theme - whisked sponge cakes, either baked in a round tin or in a flat rectangular one, when the filling is spread on and they're rolled into a Swiss roll; or else creamed butter and sugar, egg added, then flour, with whatever flavourings you want.  The tradition is to cook in two shallow round trays, as a Victoria sandwich (you can sandwich with fruit and cream or butter icing) - but it was much this mixture that I steamed into a sponge pudding.  We loved fruit cakes, as everyday or rich as we wanted - I don't often make cakes, but when I do, the simplest is a boiled fruit cake, where you put the butter, sugar, dried fruit and some water in a pan, simmer it for a while, then cool and add eggs and flour, then bake.  There are pound cakes, Dundee cakes, Simnel cakes, gingerbread, parkin - parkin is a fabulous one, made with oatmeal - lemon drizzle, chocolate sponge, coffee and walnut ... it's a wonder we're not all fat.

Oh.  So we are.

We like preserves, too.  Do other countries make chutney?  I don't know if they do, to the same extent.  I've had mango chutney in India and some very spicy pickles.  Tim and I had pickled walnuts with our pâté and cheese for lunch.  I've never made them, because you have to have a walnut tree so that you can pick the walnuts when they're very young, before the shells have started to harden.  My father loved pickled walnuts but I didn't eat them for years, until I noticed a jar in the local deli.  Now, I buy them until they've sold out that season's produce.  Piccalilli (sp?) is one that I've never seen in another country.  I've not made that either, but it's mixed vegetables in spiced vinegar with the addition of turmeric, basically, I think.  My mother didn't make preserves generally, except pickled red cabbage.  I've not found the perfect red cabbage yet.  I made some, but I'd had to get a commercial mix of pickling spices and it had too much chilli in, it was wrongly proportioned and wasn't a great success.  We do make quite a range of chutneys and pickles, though.

I mentioned toad in the hole - the same batter is used to make Yorkhire pudding, which is so delicious that a lot of people nowadays eat it with any roast meat.  Correctly, it only goes with roast beef and is made in one big tin, not individual ones.  But hey.  Whatever anyone likes.

What I do love is a fresh seasonal vegetable.  I won't buy imported asparagus.  If served it, I wouldn't refuse to eat it, but it's one of the few things that, as far as I'm concerned, has to be locally grown and in season for me to buy it.  It's a traditional Norfolk crop, which is just as well.  I was telling Tin the other day about a meal I cooked in May or early June, coming up to 16 years ago.  I bought a whole fish from the fishmonger - I'm not sure if there were three or four of us, but it was big enough for the family and I baked it whole, seasoned with home-grown herbs.  I had dug up the first new potatoes, picked the first peas and some broad beans.  Everything was fresh and seasonal and simply cooked.  It was immensely special, as meals go, for that reason, and we all enjoyed it.  But, looking around, I realised that no one in my family knew why it was so special.  First potatoes and peas, all homegrown herbs and veg, perfectly simple fish, perfectly cooked - the only person I knew who would have felt exactly the same as I did was my mother, and she'd died in March.  

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Glorious food

I still haven't sorted out my other blog.  I've probably lost half my lovely readers, who've stuck with me all these years and I'm sorry.  But it's rising to the top of the list, that job, as long as nothing more pressing happens tomorrow.

Tonight, we had kippers and roast potatoes for supper.  I remember my mother being a bit shocked, when she accidentally called on our neighbours, back in about 1964, at about 6 o'clock, and found them tucking into their evening kippers.  They were a breakfast dish, as far as she was concerned, possibly lunch at a pinch, but not appropriate for the evening meal.  I reckon that kippers are suitable at pretty well any time of day, though.  There's a saying somewhere that a British breakfast is just about right at any time of the day, and I'd certainly go along with that.

LT and I were talking about typically English - moving away from the whole UK as we're both English - dishes, the other day.  Roast beef, obviously, and actually roast any meat, including game.  Also fish - fried fish in batter and chips, grilled sole, kippers and bloaters, fried roes, they're all straightforward food for people who like to see what they're getting.  Whitebait.  Herring in all its forms - two of which, maybe three, I've mentioned already.  Cabbage.  Carrots.  Good honest bread and home made puddings, such as suet puddings, sponge puddings, rice puddings, syllabub and trifle.  Tim and I slightly disagreed about macaroni cheese - I said that macaroni has certainly been used in this country for over 500 years, so it counts, but he reckons it's very similar to meals in Italy and other countries; which I don't think matters - but there we go, let's compromise on cauliflower cheese.  Pan haggerty and lobscouse and bubble and squeak.  Liver and bacon - bacon, actually, the proper stuff.  Black pudding, tripe and onions, kidneys and other offal.  I've never eaten lights - lungs - though I cooked them for my dog, who adored them.  Shellfish - oysters, mussels, winkles and so on. Broad beans (fava beans, darlings) and fresh green peas.  Potted meat, sausages - how could I have taken so long to mention sausages?  Toad in the hole.  Steak and kidney pie.  Steak and kidney pudding.  Pork pie.  Stilton cheese, Wensleydale, Cheshire, Cheddar, all the delicious regional cheeses that guarantee I can't become vegan.  And eggs.  Fried, poached, scrambled, coddled (does anyone coddle an egg nowadays?  I don't), meringued - ooh, proper puddings can take another sentence.  Queen of puddings, Eve's pudding, burnt cream (yeah, there's crème brûlée but we share with our French cousins), apple pie, apple crumble, rhubarb fool, strawberries and cream, baked apple, gooseberry tart.....

Having said all that, our cookery is inspired from all over the world.  Why should it not be?  Sometimes I decide, or Tim decides, to be inspired by a single country, but mostly we're all over the place, in a good cause.  If it's good, we'll cook it and we'll eat it.  

Monday, 4 February 2019

The darling dozen come for lunch

The whole family came to Sunday lunch, which went very well.  Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding etc, followed by Proper Steamed Sponge Puddings and custard.  As traditional English as you can get.  Jam sponge and chocolate sponge, and almost everyone had a little bit of both.

Later, I went and played on the Ups and Downs with Zerlina, Gus and Rufus and, after they had all gone home, I was tired out.  I had a bath and came down again and couldn't really stay awake.  Asked if I was hungry, I had to say I'd rather go straight to bed, which I did before 8.30 in the evening.  The cooking did take a lot of effort, but I swung into action with energy and good cheer (the potatoes just didn't want to roast and I had to fry them into crispness in the end) and I was vastly grateful that LT took over all the jobs that weren't actual cooking - including hoovering, sorting out drinks, tidying, lighting fires ... honestly, he just cracked on and took all the burden - but, though I wasn't at all tired all day, I just unravelled by 7 o'clock.  I'm old, darlings.  I don't mind being old, I've always had a good many older friends and I've always appreciated them, but it can be a bit disconcerting to feel the age one actually is.

Anyway, the Baby Belling cooker not having quite come up to scratch in terms of potato roasting, I've ordered a new table-top cooker.  Splendid as the Aga is, I can't fit everything in and it's occasionally useful to have something else - and, in the summer, I aim to turn the Aga off altogether.  I've also, recently, bought a new, useful toy - I have nowhere in the house to dry more than a small amount of washing.  If the weather isn't suitable to dry everything outdoors, it has to go in the tumble drier.  But I found a firm that makes two-tier racks to sit on top of the Aga, plus an extra rail in front and - though it was expensive - I bought them all and they actually are very good.  It's a bit of a faff to carefully fold each item and lay it on top, but I haven't used the tumble drier this year yet.  

Friday, 1 February 2019

Z's week. Or Z's weak, possibly, who knows?

Sorry to say that a week has gone by and I've done nothing about the other blog.  I limit the stuff I deal with in a day, and it wasn't top of the list on any of them.  It's a nuisance, and sometimes frustrating, but the only way I can plod through things without getting overwhelmed.  Next week, I'm sure.

I typed out a list of 28 lots for the next auction today - it's not until October, but I've got more than half the lots booked in already, as well as a couple of potential new buyers.  I'm not sure how long I'll carry on with the sales - I do them out of nostalgia and friendship, mostly - the work involved is not so very arduous but it does take quite a lot of time, for what that's worth.  I'll plod on year to year, for the time being.

The family is coming to lunch on Sunday - it'll be my Christmas menu of roast rib of beef etc; it having been the first time we've been all together since then.  When we went to the butcher today, he'd had a run on ribs of beef, which was a bit alarming.  I was busy planning an alternative, but he kindly went and phoned the wholesaler, who can put in an extra delivery tomorrow morning.  One of the good things about local shopping.

Actually, the proprietor of the butchery died suddenly a couple of weeks ago, of an aneurism. It was sudden.  He was very involved in local affairs; having been on the council, a former Mayor, Town Reeve, he raised a lot of money for charities and catered at many local events.  His is the last butchery in the town, so we hope his wife will decide to keep the shop going.  There are two other butchers and an assistant there, and we think she will.  A couple of farm shops, which do their own wild boar and goat, some game and chicken, but not everything, there is certainly scope for a butcher.

We are quite lucky for food shops in Yagnub.  There's a fishmonger, whole food shop, deli and greengrocer within a few yards of each other.  There are also a good many places to eat out.  Our favourite opened again today, having been closed during January so any refurbishment can be done and the owners have a break.  So we hot-footed it down there for lunch.  Which was splendid.  

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Z is old and sensible

I've made all the marmalade we'll need for the year and it's nicely tucked away on the larder shelf.  There are still half a dozen pots from last year, which have been brought into the kitchen.  I've also frozen a few oranges in case I want to cook with Seville oranges during the next year.  I'm more efficient than I used to be, in some respects, which feels a bit boring; but hey ho.  It's bound to catch up in the end and it seems that I've finally grown up, chiz chiz.

I don't think I mentioned, last time LT and I were in Reading, we went to Ikea to look at wardrobes.  I know.  I know, darlings, I've avoided this sort of stuff for so many years, but I have finally entered the stage of my life when I want a dressing room.  So bookcases will be shifted in favour of wardrobes.  The books will be kept, of course, I haven't changed fundamentally.  Anyway, we were so enervated by the job of circumnavigating the Ikea showroom that we couldn't quite face ordering anything to be delivered 160 miles away, so just wrote it all down and haven't glanced at it since.

But tonight I want Tim to cheer me up because I'm feeling old and dull, so he's playing Fats Domino. Hooray.  The Fat Man Rules!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Snooze and chips and sealing rats. And a happy blog day.

I slept soundly for three nights*.  I said to Tim yesterday that I mustn't read anything into that - neither that it was too good to last, nor that this was a breakthrough and that I'd sleep better in future.  As it happened, I didn't do too well last night - 9 o'clock now and I won't last until 10, I don't think.  Getting old is fine, but it can be a bit tedious on occasion.

It's still all Man (in the mankind sense) against Rat in the henhouse.  After the last disaster, I put a layer of chicken wire on the base and coming well up the walls of the shed, then concrete slabs on top as far as I could, because they didn't fit exactly and I didn't have quite enough anyway, and filled in with bricks and there were still a few gaps where I put in big stones.  Then I covered the whole lot with a piece of vinyl floor covering offcut and some chipboard.  And, on Thursday evening, I noticed that it had been nibbled.  I panicked a bit, covered any possible areas with bricks and had to leave for London the next morning.  On Saturday morning, I found another newly nibbled area.

We searched and puzzled, took out all the moveable bits, including nest boxes, and really couldn't work out how the little buggers were getting in.  It made no sense - until Tim spotted a tiny gap at the side where they'd nibbled through the corner of the shed and slipped through the edge of the wire.  So he jammed a stone in the hole and staple-gunned the wire and I've filled in every gap, one way and another.  I have to have a sheet of tin in front of the door because they are eating their way through there.  They do no harm to the chickens, but other rodents - I suspect stoats - do.

The rat-proof feeder isn't, so I have to block that off every night too.  Then I leave the door open to the greenhouse so that the cats get in during the night and worry the rats a bit.  I haven't tonight though, it's very blowy out there.  It's not actually that cold, but it feels as if it is.  Snow is due, apparently, in the next couple of days, so I rather hope that the wind has died down by that time, as it tends to form a three-foot drift in the drive if it's windy.  I'd call it a metre deep, to encourage the young, but it would be an exaggeration.  But many's the time I've dug our way out to the road, all 100 yards or possibly metres of it.

Talking of cats - as I did, briefly - even the shyest lets me stroke him now.  Not for long and I don't meet his eyes, as it's too challenging for him.  But there is a pleasure in having a wild creature trust you.

I've had an update from Tessa about Tim the hedgehog (for he's a boy, so we're doomed to confusion. Eloise cat is one thing, but Tim hedgehog takes far too long to say).  He's getting better and put on 100 grams in the first couple of days.  Tessa reckons that he'd have died by now without help.  She's going to check his teeth to be sure he can catch food in future - though if he can't, he can just join the throng down in the barn.  I"m sure the cats won't be at all bothered.

It's my 13th blogging anniversary.  Gosh,

* I was awake in the intervening days, of course.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Z writes a thank-you letter

I went to London yesterday to meet my builder at the flat and, afterwards, a friend for lunch.  He was slightly disconcerted by the restaurant I'd chosen - simply because it's next door to the flat - but spicy Louisiana food was a bit outside his comfort zone, I think.  I hope he did enjoy it though.

I've just been on the Greater Anglia train website, to send feedback about the return journey.  I got to the station in good time - I'd had a really easy time of it all day, journey-wise - and the announcer said that my train was delayed.  An incoming passenger had been taken ill and was being helped - I think they used a different train in the end - anyway, it was actually only delayed by about 15 minutes, but the guard explained that, as we'd missed our time slot, there would be a further delay as we went along.  It ended up as about 18 minutes.

After that, the driver really put his foot down, though the train didn't feel rocky in the least.  By the time we got to Ipswich, the guard was able to announce that ongoing connections could be caught after all, if people would go promptly to the platforms, which he told them.

I'd been amused for a while by the woman and her son in the seats behind us.  He was a textbook petulant teenager.  At one point he was whingeing about his phone - it was useless, it was reeealy old and embarrassing and she didn't care at all... - and she answered with slightly amused patience.  Then she told him they'd have to be ready to leave quickly, so he needed to get ready - "Whyyyy???" - and she told him about the connection that had been announced, if he hadn't been so busy complaining.  I noted him as they left - about 14, neat school blazer, I'm sure he's a nice boy really!

The guard had said we'd be at Diss at 17.58 but we were actually there at 17.48, which was pretty impressive.  The driver was trying to get to Norwich on time for passengers to make their connection to Great Yarmouth - don't know if he did so.  The guard quipped "Please close the doors behind you so that we can get going as quickly as possible - those doors don't close themselves" and "We've just crossed the border from Suffolk too Norfolk.  If you're leaving the train at Diss, please have your passport ready."  No one had been cross about the late departure of course, it was no one's fault, but the odd chuckle never does any harm.

So the feedback I sent was appreciative, and I've sent my thanks.  I hope that the message is passed on.


Thursday, 24 January 2019

Z drops in again

A small hiatus on the razorbladeoflife.co.uk front, darlings.  It's gone down and I have to get on to support.  Yeah.  I know.  I thought I was going to do it after dinner this evening and then we went out to the hen house because of my anxiety over rats - I'm not coming over all Room 101, this is perfectly reasonable of me - and now I don't feel like a conversation with a helpline.  I'll be in London tomorrow and so the odds are that I'll be hors de combat for a couple more days at least - or anyway, the Z part of me.  And then, I trust, all will be well and we can start talking about this year's blog party, if such a thing is destined to take place.  All is willing and able at this end, so it's up to you lovely people to come along and join us.